CHAMPAIGN — The Michigan men’s basketball team went to the locker room nursing a one-point lead over Illinois.
But it knew from experience that the game was far from over.
When the two teams squared off on Jan. 4 in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines overcame a one-point halftime deficit to defeat the Fighting Illini 74-64.
Last night, the tables were turned when Illinois dominated Michigan down the stretch in a 66-51 win.
“Almost an exact game as up there, but reversed,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber called it.
The difference between the games was one man: Illinois center Mike Tisdale.
At halftime, Illini guard Demetri McCamey told Tisdale he had better be ready to shoot the ball in the paint.
The big man responded, scoring the Illini’s first nine points of the second half. The 7-foot-1 Tisdale dominated a small Michigan lineup, which featured 6-foot-8 junior forward DeShawn Sims and 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Manny Harris as its tallest players on the floor for most of the night.
“He’s hard for us (to handle),” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “We’re playing small. We’re not very big in the center and he’s tough to stop.”
Tisdale was held in check in the opening half, but exploded for 18 of his game-high 24 points after the break.
The big man even made a 3-pointer — his first attempt of the season — with less than five minutes remaining that killed any hope of a Wolverine comeback. Beilein said Tisdale “pulled a Pittsnogle” by nailing the deep ball, comparing the center to the sharp-shooting former West Virginia star Kevin Pittsnogle.
While the Illini shot an effective 52.4 percent from the field in the second half, Michigan couldn’t buy a basket. Despite having the conference’s second-best scoring offense, the Wolverines shot a season-low 32.2 field-goal percentage on the night and were held to a season-low 51 points.
Michigan (3-2 Big Ten, 13-4 overall) has often relied on 3-pointers this season as a primary source of scoring, but that wasn’t the case last night. The Wolverines shot a poor 26.9 percent from behind the arc. Illinois defended Michigan high on the perimeter, which made it difficult for the Wolverines to run their offense. And when Michigan did get open looks late in the game, it failed to convert.
“We just weren’t able to knock down the shots we’re usually able to knock down,” Harris said. “Games like that are going to happen but you just got to fight through and do the things that are going to make us win the game.”
In the first half, the Wolverines were a different team. Michigan and Illinois (3-1, 13-4) traded blows the opening 20 minutes, resulting in 11 lead changes.
The Wolverines scored by spreading the ball around early and four players tied for a team-leading five points at the half, but Harris was the only player to reach double figures, finishing with 20 points.
For the first 10 minutes of the second half, Michigan held close, but fell behind for good after a five-minute scoreless stretch midway through the stanza.
“They played harder than us for the whole 40 minutes and that’s how they got the win,” Harris said.
And after completing their home-and-home series, the Illini and Wolverines have both proven that a one-point lead on the road is never safe.